I have admired many Japanese motorcycles and Japan is clearly one of the all-time most creative and prolific producers of bikes. I hold fond memories of watching Mike the Bike howling between the curbs, walls and hedges on the Isle of Man circuit on Honda 6's and 4's. And some legendary machines I would really like to own, like the Honda RW30.
But, amongst the many more accessible, mass-produced machines that have made Japanese motorcycles dominate in just about every category of motorized 2 wheelers, there is one engine and frame that have always appeared to me as a sculptural work of motorcycle art, albeit of the art brut kind: the Suzuki GSXR of the air and oil-cooled era. The rectangular section aluminium frame was quite revolutionary when introduced in about 1984 and these bikes, initially of 750cc before also coming out in a big-bore 1100 cc version, were at the time the fastest on the road and were directly derived from the Suzuki endurance racers that were at that time cleaning up on the circuits.
This Suzuki GSXR 1100 is originally from about 1991 but has now been considerably modified, freed of all fairings, and is now sitting in my garage.
Not being a purist or a "collector" of original machines that have to have everything in place just as it came out of the crate, I like to see some improvements and/or modifications made to most bikes. This is about two things. Firstly actual improvements and adaptations to one's current usage, since, after all, many items or pieces of technology have improved over that past decades (just think of tyres, to take just one example). But also the idea that a motorbike is such a personal (and, agreed, egotistical) piece of machinery that one may as well go to it and make it more distinctively individual by doing (or, in my case, mostly having done) various modifications for aesthetic and technical reasons. Customizing is the name of that game, I suppose.
A while ago I saw in the excellent French magazine Café Racer (www.cafe-racer.fr) an article on a workshop out in the eastern suburbs of Paris called KMP (and here is their web site, in French:www.kmp.fr) which specializes mainly in GSXRs of various eras, and their rebuilding and transformation into customized machines of various types. And the prices they were asking for these renovated and modified machines looked pretty reasonable, given the work that had presumably gone into them. So, after a few months secret longing and some saving-up, I finally took the plunge and went to see them with firmish intentions. Very friendly and informative was Christophe, the boss, and he showed me a bike that I had in fact spotted in the Cafe Racer article. I remembered liking its sober grey livery with a see-through section in the tank to check fuel level, its polished frame and spoked wheels. It still needed a bit of work and I asked for a few other mods also, so I finally got it back home about 6 weeks later.
What's it like to ride? Bit of a pig in traffic, added to which the carburetors need a bit of sorting still as it misfires between 4 and 5,000 rpm, which is just what you don't need when accelerating! The braking is great and it feels like a rail in bends although it is pretty physical to turn. The tiny electronic rev-counter/ digital speedo doesn't work but I'm having that changed for something better and more legible. Not sure I will do 500 kms per day on this but it's a blast to ride. The Hindle silencers say they are homologated, but I'm not sure by whom or for what. Maybe the man was called Hindle Homologated? As it is impossible to see what speed you're actually doing, I tried playing it by ear but soon realized that I had no chance there as I am far too used to singles or twins that rev much lower. Instead I constantly find myself feeling for higher gears that seem to be missing from the gearbox. I suppose I will get used to this motor running at way above 8,000 rpm or whatever.
The bike is currently back with KMP for the necessary adjustments. Will tell you more soon. I suspect it has been overbored to about 1240cc. She looks the part anyway, so I am pleased with my piece of sculpture. Can my driver's licence resist though?
Ride well and safely.